Translating Jāmī’s Yusūf wa Zulaykhā

I have been working on the Sanskrit Translation of Jāmī’s Yūsuf and Zulaykhā for many years, but I realized that I needed to delve more into the Persian original text to fully understand the Sanskrit. As I did more and more research, I found many translations, but none that really literally translated the Persian text—many were so free they were basically unusable for any sort of scholarly work. I decided to translate it myself. I must stress I am no Persianist, and I am quite at the beginning of my studies of the language and its literature, but as an excercise, I am posting my translations here. Please feel free to offer any suggestions and critiques.

Transliterated Persian Text:

1 ilāhī ǧunče-yi ummīd bugšāy

gulī az rauże-yi jāvīd binmāy

2 bekhandān az lab-i ān ǧunče bāǧ-am

v-az-īn gul ‘iṭṭr-parvar kun dimāǧ-am

3 dar-īn miḥnat-sarā-yi bī muvāsā

be ni‘mat-hā-yi khvīš-am kun šināsā

4 żamīr-am rā sipās andīše gardān

zabān-am rā sitāyiš pīše gardān

5 zi taqvīm-i khirad bihrūzī-yam bakš

bar iqlīm-i sakhun fīrūzī-yam bakš

6 dilī dādī zi gauhar ganj bar ganj

zi ganj-i dil zabān rā kun guhar-sanj


1 O God, awaken the bud of hope,

Show a flower from the eternal garden (rauze-yi jāvīd).

2 Make my garden smile through that lip which is the bud

And from this flower perfume my mind

3 In this house of affliction devoid of ease,

Make me aware of your favors (ne’mat-hā)

4 Transform (gardān) the hidden part of my heart into a knower of [Your] favor (sepās)

Transform my tongue into something that has the calling (piše) of [Your] praise

5 From the calendar of wisdom grant me an auspicious day

Grant me victory in the realm of poetry

6 Give me a heart from the pearl, a treasure upon treasure (ganj bar ganj)

From the treasure [that is my] heart make my tongue an appraiser of pearls.


  1. This verse could perhaps be translated as follows:

Grant me welfare (bihrūzī) from the wisdom (khirad) that makes me steadfast (taqvīm),

Grant me victory in the realm of poetry.

Such a translation perhaps fits well in the Ṣūfī context of Jāmī’s work. Khirad (wisdom or intellect) is the first creation of God, so parallel to divine creation is man’s intellect is the highest part of a human. Understanding the word taqvīm in the sense of the Arabic infinitive, “to make firm, to make upright,” recalls Qur’ān 95.4:

“We created man in a most noble image (taqvīm) […]”

Such an understanding seems to be clearly in line with scripture and Ṣūfi cosmologies, however, the Persian commentary I consulted as well as the Sanskrit translation understands this taqvīm as calendar and gives the whole verse a more astrological flavor.

6. ganj bar ganj: the heart in Ṣūfī thought is multi-layered. In this case the use of the term pearl (gauhar/guhar) is particularly apposite. In this case Jāmī’s understanding of the pearl as a “treasure upon treasure” makes sense, given that a pearl is made of layers just as a heart is layered. Chapter 3.7 of early thirteenth century text Mirṣād al-‘ibād min al-mabda’ ilā al-ma‘ād of Najm al-Dīn Rāzī (known as Dāyeh, d. 1256) states: “Know that heart (dil) is the counterpart of the firmament in human beings, and body (tan) is similar to the earth; because the sun of soul (or: sun-like soul) shines upon the earth of the body (i.e. earth-like body) from the firmament of the heart (i.e. firmament-like heart), and illuminates it through the light of life. In the same manner that there are seven climes on the earth, and there are seven levels in the firmament, the body has seven organs and heart has seven layers, like the seven layers of the firmament, because [God said:] “And we created you in phases” (Quran 71:14).” The text goes on to enumerate these seven layers of the heart, namely ṣadr (chest), qalb (heart, literally turning upside down, transformation), šaqāf (sheath), fu‘ād (heart/mind), ḥabbat al-qalb (seed of the heart), suvaydā (black dot), and muhjat al-qalb (innermost heart). (Persian translated by PZ)


A conversion narrative from Jāmī’s Yūsuf wa Zulaykhā in Sanskrit

In keeping with my recent obsession with finding Sanskrit translations of Islamicate literature, I present a very short selection from Srivara’s Kathakautuka.  In this selection, Yusuf (Sanskrit Yosobha, English Joseph) has been bought as a slave by a woman enamored by his beauty.  He explains to her that his beauty is transient and that she should look to the everlasting beauty of the one true God.  In Srivara’s telling this becomes a very Saiva experience, in which the woman becomes a wandering mendicant ascetic, it kind of reminds me of chapter five of the Kumarasambhava.  (Again this is a rough first attempt!  Suggestions welcome!)

Anyway Enjoy!

From Kathākautuka chapter 12:

“Know all of this that is seen endowed with many splendors to exist like a reflection in the mirror of Bhava.  Beautiful browed one, just as the mind, after beholding some reflection in a mirror, instantaneously runs there alone in order to decide about it, so too after seeing the universe, fixed and moving, created from his power of illusion, do the wise meditate upon Śambhu alone.  Fine-hipped lady, if [you have] a strong mental attachment to the appearance of beauty, see in your heart that the one recourse is the drunk god, charming.  Beautiful-browed one, once you see my beauty as transient—[and] your happiness—therefore look towards the stable [beauty] of Śambhu, containing everything.”

After she heard his speech she became as it freed from delusion.  At that instant she paid reverence to his lotus-feet again and again.  Then the thin-waisted woman gave up her fine elephants and her riches, took on a single ochre robe [of the mendicant], anointed all of her limbs with ash, gave up her affection towards family and went to the deep forest to perform austerities like a renunciant.  Her mind was cleansed through fasts and vows—each more difficult than the last.  Stainless, her body became purified through bathing at all of the sacred fords.  So the fair one became self-controlled while at the same time the austerity-rich [ascetics] became highly amazed.  Realizing their own selves (?) after hearing her amazing story, praising her, then they became bulls among sages.  After they attained the highest forbearance, through her teaching these wise men were unable to do any action at any time.  She performed austerities by which she attained the strength of Indra — it would be impossible to say anything about them even in one hundred years!

yad idam dṛśyate sarvaṃ nānākautukasaṃyutam  |  tadavaihi bhavādarśe pratibimbam iva sthitam  ||12.32||  yathā kiṃcit samālokya darpaṇe pratibimbitam  |  mano dhāvati tatraiva kartuṃ tanniścayṃ muhuḥ  ||12.33||  tathaiva sakalaṃ subhru jagat sthāvarajaṅgamam  |  dṛṣṭvā māyāmayaṃ śambhuṃ dhyāyanty ekaṃ manīṣiṇaḥ  ||12.34||  mānasaṃ ced varārohe rūpadarśanalālasam  |  paśyaikaṃ śaraṇaṃ mattaṃ hṛdi devaṃ manoramam  ||12.35||  dṛṣṭvaiva māmakaṃ rūpaṃ vinaśyat kiṃ sukhaṃ tava  |  sthiraṃ sarvagataṃ tasmāt subhru śambhor vilokaya  ||12.36||  iti tadvacanaṃ śrutvā gatamoheva sābhavat  |  tatkṣaṇāt tatpadāmbhojam praṇanāma muhur muhuḥ  ||12.37||  tatas sā gajaratnāni tāni tāṃ sampadaṃ tathā  |  vihāyādāya kāṣāyapaṭṭam ekaṃ sumadhyamā  ||12.38||  bhasmabhūṣitasarvāṅgā bandhusnehavivarjitā  |  vratājinīva tapase jagāma gahanaṃ vanam  ||12.39||  kṛcchrātikṛcchraprāka-vratadhūtamano ’malā  |   sarvatīrthāvagahena śuddhadehābhavat tadā  ||12.40||      

A Rough Translation of a Sanskrit Translation of a Story from the Thousand and One Nights

Here’s a selection from Kalyāṇa Malla’s Sulaimaccarita, produced in 15th c. Awadh.  The story might be familiar for those of you who have read the story of the Jinn and the Fisherman in the Thousand and One Nights

Long ago, there lived a righteous merchant named Dhanada, generous, and intent upon the values of his own family.  A certain sailor brought a miraculous parrot, five-colored and vivacious, from the islands and gave to him.  Taking him, the merchant deposited him into a fantastic golden cage, studded with gems, and nourished him as if he were a devoted son, possessed of all virtues, with various fruits and sugar lumps from sugarcane.  Skilled in every language and proficient in every type of knowledge, the parrot grew and grew, delighting his keeper.  His wife, wide-eyed, was unparalleled in beauty on the earth.  Rejecting her husband (vibhu) constantly, she became the mistress of others.  Constantly waiting outside the door for her lovers, when her husband went to the shop, she smeared a mixture of saffron and sandal a paste of musk on her breasts and went forth to her tryst.  […]

The parrot observed the wife living like so for days and days and became angry with her.  As he made known he was leaving the house, the [parrot] announced what he had seen earlier:  “O king, your wife is an unchaste woman, a [mere] store of flattery.  Day by day she enjoys herself with other men, meeting them joyfully.  Whatever excellent young man she sees, when he presents himself in front [of her], him she embraces, gives sexual pleasure joyfully, then sends on his way again.”

She plotted in her heart with her conspiring friends to kill the parrot who thus was constantly making known the daily events within the household.  Once the best of merchants heard the words [of the parrot] considering them true, he beat his wife with scoldings and lashings again and again.

Thus chastized, his wife was enraged, and perceiving a means [toward revenge] she placed chick-peas on a stone near the parrot’s cage and ground them with a loud sound.  From above there was a sprinkling of water on the body of the parrot.  In the darkness having lit a lamp she caused it to move [in front of him].  The parrot thought it was the thundering of the clouds reverberating with thunderbolts; he considered the falling of drops of water to be rain; he thought the quick flashes (paribhramaṇa) in the mirror near the lamp to be lightning.  Then he said respectfully to the merchant when he came,  “During the night, where were you? Were you not tormented by the rain?”

As soon as he had said “ There was so much rain last night!” [the merchant] said to the bird:  “Parrot, what’s this rain falling in the night?  Tell me, right away! Today you have become a liar—your speech has been found out!  Just so you must have spoken previously too, alas, always about my wife!”

Once he spoke thus, the merchant, the ends of his eyes reddened with anger, then, seizing a stick, struck the parrot in a rage.  After he killed the parrot without reflection, he saw the behavior of his wife, and afterwards, tortured, the merchant always lamenting, remembered the parrot, and was killed by regret (cintā).  So to will happen to you, o king…

purā viśalānagare dhanado nāma dhārmikaḥ  |  vaiśyo’vasad badhudhanī svakulācāratatparaḥ  ||4.89||  tasya* kaścic chukaṃ divyaṃ pañcavarṇaṃ mahaujasam  |  nāvikaḥ samupānīya dattavān dvīpasambhavam  ||4.90||  taṃ gṛhītvā vaṇig divye kāñcane ratnamaṇḍite  |  pañjare nyasya vividhaiḥ phalaiḥ puṇḍrekṣujair guḍaiḥ  ||4.91||  pupoṣa nirataṃ putram iva sarvaguṇānvitam  |  sarvabhāṣāsu nipuṇaḥ sarvavidyāviśāradaḥ  ||4.92||  vivardhata śukaḥ prītiṃ janayan pālakasya saḥ  |  tasya bhāryā viśālākṣī rūpeṇāpratimā bhuvi  ||4.93||  vibhuṃ nirasya satataṃ parakīyā babhūva ha  |  bahir dvāre sadā sthitvā kāminaḥ saṃpratīkṣatī*  ||4.94||  vipaṇiṃ gatavati nāthe vividhālaṃkārasaṃkumuda*paṅkam  |  kuṃkumacandanamiśraṃ liptvā kucayoḥ prayāti saṃketam  ||4.95||  madanabhūtaparājitamānasā vadarājitamauktikacitrakā  |  sadanamāgatakāmukamaṇḍalīhṛdayarañjanam ācaratī* babhau  ||4.96|| […]  evaṃ vasantīṃ gṛhiṇīṃ dine dine vilokya kīraḥ pracukopa tāṃ prati  |  gṛhāgatāyāśu nivedayad* yathā tathā purā dṛṣṭam upetya so viśe  ||4.98||  taveyaṃ gṛhiṇī deva kulaṭā caṭulāśayā  |  ahardivaṃ paraiḥ puṃbhī ramate militā mudā  ||4.99||  yaṃ yaṃ paśyati puruṣaṃ taruṇaṃ śaraṇāgataṃ paraṃ purataḥ  |  taṃ taṃ parirabhya mudā datvā rataṃ punaḥ preṣayati  ||4.100||  evaṃ pratyaham antargṛhavṛttaṃ bodhayantam anuvelam  |  hantuṃ śukam ātmani sā cintām akarot sakhībhir anvartham  ||4.101||  śrutvā śukavacaḥ satyaṃ manvāno vaiśyasattamaḥ  |  dārān santāḍayām āsa tarjanair marjanair muhuḥ  ||4.102||  evaṃ santarjitā tasya gṛhiṇī krodhasaṃyutā  |  upāyaṃ kañcid ālocya śukapañjarasannidhau  ||4.103||  caṇakān upale kṣiptvā pipeṣa dhvanim udvaman*  |  upariṣṭāc chukasyāṅge vavarṣodakavipruṣaḥ  ||4.104||  timire dīpam uddīpya darpaṇaṃ bhrāmayat*puraḥ  |  śilācakradhvaniṃ megharāvaṃ mene śukas tadā  ||4.105||  ambhaḥ pṛṣatkapatanaṃ varṣodakam amanyata  |  dīpāntikādarśaparibhramaṇaṃ vidyud ity ayam  ||4.106||  mene tataḥ samāyātaṃ vaiśyam āha sa sādaram  |  niśāyāṃ kva sthito ’si vṛṣṭyā kiṃ nu na cārditaḥ  ||4.107||  rātryāṃ vṛṣṭir mahaty āsīd ity uktaḥ prāha* taṃ khagam  |  kva vṛṣṭiḥ patitā rātryāṃ śuka tūṣṇīṃ* bravīṣi mām  ||4.108||  mṛṣāvādī bhavān adya vijñātaṃ bhāṣitaṃ tava  |  evam eva purāpi tvam uktavān ayi nityaśaḥ  ||4.109||  majjāyāṃ praty apīty uktvā krodharaktāntalocanaḥ  |  jaghāna daṇḍam ādāya śukaṃ kopād athorujaḥ  ||4.110||  avicārya śukaṃ hatvā dṛṣṭvā ca gṛhiṇīgatim  |  paścat tāpasamāyuktaḥ śukam smṛtvā rudan sadā  ||4.111||  mamāra cintayā vaiśyas tathā tvam api bhūpatiḥ


Favorite Books I read in 2012: Seasons of the Palm and Current Show

Both these novels of Perumal Murugan were published by Tara Books in 2004 (I think) but I read both of them twice this year.  Each book in its own way deals with marginal figures inside of the complex dynamics of modern Tamilnadu.  Murugan centers their lives and experiences (the main characters tend to be young teen-aged men), flipping the dynamic of narration in an interesting way.  The artistry of Murugan is that he manages to anchor these works in a dense social reality while making their hunger, beauty, darkness, and savage grace transcend the countryside and truck-stop towns of central Tamilnadu.


Seasons of the Palm tells of untouchable children herding goats around a dry lake-bed.  Suspended precariously over cruelty, violence, and hunger, the characters experience fleeting moments of happiness and glimpses of a salvation that is both omnipresent and impossible.


Current Show follows the boys working menial jobs, selling sodas and storing cycles, in a cinema hall.  Tired, bored, with only their companionship and a bit of marijuana, there is only the search for some small bit of stability, which is difficult to attain for those outside of the movie-screen fantasies.

Both of these books are exhilarating reads, both familiar and strange, troubling, beautiful, and fascinating.  Instead of navel-gazing about the Indian (or Tamil for that matter) novel in the vernacular (like the recently translated Zero Degree), Murugan’s work show the possibility of an Indian (or Tamil) literature, can alienate and challenge the reader, like the best literature.

I will be teaching Current Show in my class this coming year.  I’ll let you know how it goes!